This year is poised to be one of the most exciting years in modern history. A major event will take place that could change the direction of our country — indeed, of the entire world. I’m not talking about the upcoming election, or even the fabled Mayan Apocalypse. I’m talking about 2012 as the Year of Faith! …Queue cricket sounds…
OK, I know at first glance the “Year of Faith” doesn’t seem all that exciting or noteworthy. And I know as Catholics we’re supposed to be excited about it, even though we might not think it’s a big deal. But seriously, something truly amazing is happening in the Church. We are in the midst of an unprecedented time in our history; a time that Catholics have been longing to see for decades.
For many, many years the Church has lingered in doldrums, seemingly adrift at sea without direction, without purpose, and without relevance. In fact, sometimes we tried so hard to be “relevant” that we forgot how to be Catholic. Other times we spent so much energy trying to find a “new direction” that we forgot we already have a map, a course, and a compass.
The statistics of the past several decades confirm this reality. In the turbulent years following the cultural revolution of the ’60s, the Church suffered greatly. Mass attendance, Catholic school enrollment and vocations have drastically declined. Fewer Catholic couples are getting married; fewer parents are having their children baptized. Scandals have plagued us; things have been bleak. But now the tides seem to be changing.
Catholics throughout the world are experiencing a renewed sense of purpose and mission. Thanks to the leadership of Blessed John Paul II, and now Benedict XVI, the Church is experiencing the fruits of the New Evangelization. What is the New Evangelization? Simply put, it is a movement focused on sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world that has become increasingly secularized, and even hostile, to the Christian message — and is therefore in need of Christ now more than ever. It is the call to share the life-giving message of the Gospel with others by professing, celebrating, and sincerely living this message in our own lives.
This effort has been made especially fruitful by the involvement of one of the Church’s most underutilized, and yet most valuable, resources — the laity. The apostolate of the Laity is alive and well, and it is at the front lines of the New Evangelization. The same Catholics who for decades have longed to see this day have found a voice. They have taken up the cause of spreading the Gospel, and they have been training a host of evangelists to do the same. The Church no longer relies on preaching from the pulpit alone. She no longer imagines that priests and religious are the sole harbingers of the Christian message. She now relies now more than ever on witness of the laity.
As you’re reading this, you may be saying to yourself, “Great, things are looking up. The New Evangelization is well on the way!” But, you shouldn’t. Things are most certainly not looking up, at least not yet. Why? Well, because the Gospel has this funny thing about it. Yes, it likes to be shared. Yes, it is a living, breathing, life-giving reality that has the power to change the world. But it does lack one thing — you.
Even if every bishop in the world fully embraces this call to conversion and renewal, the New Evangelization can still fail. The Church, the Gospel, and the entire world need you. You are called to be the living herald of the Word. The pope, the bishops, and the priests of the Church cannot share the Gospel in the way that you can. Most people you meet are not likely to hear this Sunday’s homily, or read the pope’s next apostolic letter. But they will hear you. They will see how you embody the Gospel even in the way you pay for your groceries. This is why the Holy Father has called for the Year of Faith, “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world.” This call to conversion is about learning how to profess, celebrate, and live our faith in our own lives in a way that transforms those around us. In the words of Pope Benedict, “We want this Year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope.” How can we do this?
During the Year of Faith, I expect there will be many opportunities to learn how you can be a part of the New Evangelization, but I want to bring one opportunity in particular to your attention. On June 15-16, 2012, the National Catholic Bible Conference is coming to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. For the past several years, this conference has attracted Catholics from around the world to learn how to read, understand, and share the Gospel message. In other words, it is a training course for the New Evangelization. This year’s event is especially exciting because it features some lay evangelists you might be familiar with: Scott Hahn, Jeff Cavins, Tim Gray, and Edward Sri. During the span of two days, participants of the National Catholic Bible Conference will be spiritually fed, and intellectually enriched by these and other popular Catholic speakers.
Just imagine the evangelistic potential of this; thousands of Catholics equipped with the knowledge, skill, and motivation to share the Gospel with others. Think of the difference it could make, not only in the lives of those Catholics, but in every single person they meet. Now imagine that you are one of those Catholics. You are already at the frontlines of the New Evangelization. You are face-to-face with the culture every day. It is critical for the success of the New Evangelization that you know how to share the truth and beauty of our faith with others you meet. You are the New Evangelization.
You can learn more about the 2012 National Catholic Bible Conference by visiting www.CatholicBibleConference.com.
John Harden received a bachelors degree in religious studies from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, and his masters degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. He serves as the marketing coordinator for Ascension Press. John, his wife Meghann, and their four children live in West Chester, Pennsylvania.